The Gun Defenders

One Nation Under Fear - Part 2

The Gun Defenders

Last week a man stood on a street carrying an AR-15. It’s the sort of weapon that people who want to massacre schoolchildren most prefer to use. The place he chose to stand was a pickup stop for an elementary school bus as the children got on.

He said he was doing it to protest new gun laws in Maryland, which would make it administratively a bit harder for him to carry this gun in the open. He’d need a permit. And who can’t sympathize? Permits are inconvenient.

He also said that he believed that by standing there, it would deter crime in the area.

He’s a good man, according to him.

Maybe so!

He represents no danger to anybody but bad guys, according to him. As far as I know, he didn’t share his criteria for making those determinations.

Better hope he doesn’t decide you’re a bad guy, I guess!

Remember this man. We’ll come back to him.

Last week I wrote about the White Christian President, and how he demonstrated the fact that our society prioritizes the ease of abusive men over the safety of women they abuse, by slandering his rape victim while his admirers clapped and cheered and laughed.

And I wrote about Jordan Neely, and the fact that he was a person, and about how remarkable it is to see how many people become outraged at this simple observance of his humanity. This included some musings about the way social license to feal fear, or to engage in self-defense as a response to fear, are perquisites that we only extend to those citizens our society considers to be people—so one way we can tell who our society considers to be a person is by watching who is extended the license to be deemed afraid, and who is not.

Today I’d like to expand upon that part: the fear.

There’s a lot of expanding we could do. The fact that our nation’s cities are engaged in an inhospitality arms race against unhoused people is just one prominent example of how we are one nation, under fear. Last week I said I thought this was a two-parter. Now I don’t know how many parts. It keeps unfolding. It’s everywhere.

It seems to me that this is a nation mediated by fear—by who is permitted to feel it and who gets to spread it, and who gets to define those parameters.

To explain, let me tell you about the trails I run.

When I run trails, I sometimes encounter people in twos or threes but mostly ones, and sometimes, as you might expect, some of those people are women.

I’ve seen pictures of me when I’m jogging; I’m 6’2” and 230 lbs. and even if I’m trying to smile, exertion turns it into a scowl. So, I do my best to seem as non-threatening as possible on the trail. I don’t know how good a job I do, but I try to give people as much of their own space as I can, and make a little unobtrusive cough from a dozen yards back if I’m coming up behind so as to not suddenly startle somebody with my sudden presence, and to offer friendly but very brief acknowledgement if I come upon somebody passing the other way, avoiding any extended eye contact that might be considered aggressive, and I just generally try to give off subtle indications that I will not be a threat, or even an encounter that they will have to negotiate and deal with.

This is not a big deal for me to do, by the way. I happen to know I am not a threat in these moments. I also recognize that nobody else knows this about me.

I think of it as a natural response to my learned awareness that this world is a different experience for women who travel an otherwise-deserted trail than it is for me, because, as the White Christian President will teach us, this is a world that has not prioritized women’s safety over men’s ease, and as a result of this, while I do live in a society that offers me many perks and comforts without my even knowing I have received them, I don’t get to live in a society where I will be automatically presumed by women to be safe, because to a certain extent, society will permit me to be a threat if I want to be one, and that is true whether I want to be a threat or not.

To be clear, I don’t think the women I pass on the trail are usually actively scared of me. But I happen to know, from listening to women’s report of their own experiences, that they have learned from a very early age that as they pass through this world, they need to be consciously aware of men in a way that I have never learned I have to be aware of women. In fact, whatever lessons I learned from a very early age have taught me, without it ever being explicitly stated, that my awareness of women was something that could be mediated solely by me and my own comfort.

And so—because this is a society that prioritizes the ease of abusive men over the safety of women they abuse—if any women do experience fear as I pass, this would not be an irrational response to my presence, even though I happen to know for a fact that I mean them no harm and will do them no harm.

And then there’s this, which I think is important: If anyone I pass on the trail feels fear as I pass, this isn’t something they are doing to me; it’s something I am doing to them. This has nothing to do with what I intend or whether or not the fear is rational, I notice. It is their fear. It is a response to me. I am doing it to them.

I think this represents a basic awareness that other people are people, too, that their experience of the world matters, and that I am not the protagonist of anyone’s reality other than (maybe) my own. A world where I could be automatically presumed safe by women as I pass on the trail would be a world where the ease of abusive men is not prioritized over the safety of the women they abuse, so if I want to be automatically presumed safe, I might try to align myself with creating such a world, which among other things involves my entering into this awareness I’m talking about, and adjusting my behavior accordingly, which again, requires so very little of me, just a simple awareness that women are people who exist and matter, which helps guide my behavior in tiny ways that cost me literally nothing.

Not all men enter into this awareness, by the way. Ironically, these are men most likely to respond to any attempt to deliver this awareness by saying “not all men.”

You could almost think that they were acknowledging that not all men accept awareness of the existence of other people.

They mean something else, though, when they say it.

Now I’d like you imagine if I did something else on the trail.

I’d like you to imagine if, instead of trying to not be obtrusive whenever I passed a woman jogging the opposite direction on an otherwise deserted trail, I made myself the main character in ways she could not ignore. Imagine if, instead of continuing on my way, I turned around and started following closely behind her.

Now I’d like you to suppose that, when I did this, if she exhibited any sort of fright or alarm, I would become offended and enraged, because I expected her to automatically understand that the reason I was doing this was not to threaten her, but to defend her against any potential threats, because I saw defending women on lonely trails as my societal role, and as a trail defender I expected her to see it that way, too.

I think it’s clear that doing this would make me some sort of a menace, no matter what I said my intentions were; and I think it would reveal a deeper, more disturbing intent; a belief about who owned the trail, of whose perspective I did or did not consider valid and even which of us I thought should get to decide about who got to feel fear, and why.

Let’s get back to the man by the elementary school bus stop.

So as I said, the man stood by the elementary school bus stop in Maryland, brandishing the tool favored by people who want to murder roughly a busload of schoolchildren, as a way of demonstrating what a law-abiding and safe fellow he was, in protest against a new gun law that said he would need to get a permit.

In a nation where guns are the number one killer of children, he decided to stand around children with a gun and defend guns.

The idea that he would even need to get a permit is not the most basic matter of common sense, by the way; it is a controversy. The idea that ownership of massacre weapons should be in any way curtailed is controversial. In many states of the country that are not Maryland—that is, states that are controlled by our nation’s fascist supremacist party, the Republicans, rather than our conservative corporatist party, the Democrats—increasing gun regulation has not only become unlikely, but impossible, which makes it pretty much impossible to do anything meaningful to restrict massacre weapons nationally as well.

And so, day after day, week after week, schoolchildren and others keep getting massacred by the busload.

This is how we know we live in a nation that values guns more than it values lives; a nation that turns every gun massacre into a defense not of people but of guns; a nation that has prioritized the ease of those who feel they might need to kill somebody someday over the lives of those who would prefer to not be killed. It’s something that would be difficult to believe, if you actually considered victims of gun violence to be people1.

And a man stood on a street in Maryland with his massacre weapon, defending his gun in full view of children and their parents.

I’m not mentioning this man’s name, because he’s not special. He’s one of thousands or maybe millions of gun defenders who love to walk around carrying this tool that is so good at turning a lot of people into meat very quickly, so bad at doing anything else. They carry these death tools into fast food joints and government buildings and on the streets, and think it is very good that such a tool exists, and that anybody can own it, especially themselves, because they think it creates a zone of safety that will make everyone in its radius safe from guns, as an extension of a clear gun-defender belief that a gunman’s intentions are as easy for everyone to see as his massacre weapons are, so anybody else’s fear is a problem—is, in fact, not something aggressive the gunman is doing to others, but something aggressive that is being done to the gun defenders.

It’s important to understand that people love this weapon. They don’t think that carrying the favored tool of school shooters ought to mean they should be thought of as a dangerous sort of person who loves owning a grim and fearful thing; rather they believe they should be thought of as the sort of person who creates safety by preventing such things from happening, even though the evidence is clear that guns are what make shootings possible, and that owning a gun makes you more dangerous to yourself and everyone else, even though these millions of guns cause deaths by the hundreds every day, and these thousands or perhaps millions of gun defenders across the country don’t ever seem to prevent shit.

But never mind, because the massacres make a case for themselves. In large part because of all the gun violence, there are lots of other people that a good law-abiding person might someday need to massacre, such as a criminal, or an intruder, or a school shooter, or maybe a fleeing shoplifter, or the U.S. government. Especially the U.S. government. Ask a gun defender, they’ll tell you: they might need guns to massacre the U.S. government someday, in case the government ever becomes tyrannical, as defined by them, and they need guns to massacre bad guys, as defined by them, in case the bad guys ever try to hurt other people, as defined by them, or even make those people afraid, as defined by them.

I keep saying they. That’s very divisive.

Let’s not play these “us vs. them” games.

Let’s try to understand other perspectives.

Let’s pretend you are one of these people who, in an age of frequent massacre brought on by a political environment that makes massacre weapons readily accessible, believe you have a natural right to own massacre weapons, because there might be a need to massacre somebody someday for a good reason, as opposed to all those other people who massacre people for bad reasons—and you know they were bad reasons because you personally disagreed with those reasons, as is your right as one of the people who gets to decide who should live and who should die, based on who you have decided is afraid and who you have decided is a threat.

Let’s further say that what you fear most is the day when there might be somebody who needs killing but you have no ready way to make that happen, because the laws have been changed so that you no longer may legally own weapons that allow you to kill with a single adrenalized finger-twitch—and since these weapons are not legal anymore, you will no longer own them, because you (who have guns in case you need to someday murder the U.S. government) are law-abiding.

It’s very important that you are permitted as a natural right to decide who needs to live and who needs to die, because you are one of the good guys, which you know for a fact, because good guys do not make people afraid, and bad guys do make people afraid, and you are not afraid of yourself, and the fear of people who are not you doesn’t matter at all, because another thing you know is that only bad guys need fear good guys, so therefore anyone who is afraid of you, a good guy, must be a bad guy.

Your weapon makes it statistically far more likely that you will kill somebody, whether with intent or by happenstance. It especially puts your family and friends and yourself at a far higher risk of being killed, and yet you think of yourself as a defender, and will insist on being thought of not as a threat but as a protector.

The threat to you is just a hypothetical one—that you may someday no longer be able to decide who lives and who dies.

The threat to everyone else is the one you are creating, with the actual massacre weapon you are holding in your actual hands.

It strikes me that these are things that you can really only believe if you have convinced yourself that other people are not actually people.

But you will have the rest of us know that we should never fear you, because you, who have made yourself statistically dangerous to us, are defending us against tyranny—you and all the other good people publicly carrying AR-15s, which, again, are very handy tools for massacring dozens of for example elementary-age schoolchildren, or Black people, or queer people having a good time in a dance club, or worshippers in a mosque or a synagogue, and so forth—anybody, really, who any other person decides needs killing at any particular moment.

So you stand on a street corner, your massacre weapon in your hands making you look exactly like any of the killers who have carried out any of the hundreds of recent massacres we might mention, and if anyone is scared of you, you firmly believe it is not something that you are doing to them, but something that they are doing to you.

And again, this strikes me as something you can only believe if you believe that other people do not really exist, and that the comfort of people like you, who hope to someday shoot somebody in a justified altercation, should take precedent over the lives of everyone else, who would not live in a world of constant shootings.

You stand around children at a bus stop where you can murder them all in a heartbeat—and for all they know, in the next heartbeat, you will!—yet you insist that they act as if you cannot possibly be a threat to them.

You believe you have the right to decide if somebody needs killing.

And you have opinions about what should be done with tyrants.

And you consider their fear of you to be tyranny.

Maybe you’ll never make the connection in your mind between those two thoughts: between your belief in what should be done to tyrants and your belief that those who rightfully fear your oppression are oppressing you with the tyranny of their fear, but maybe you will.

Many gun defenders do. Pretty much every day, somebody connects those thoughts, and then goes out to make the news.

So let’s think a bit about tyranny and fear—which are the things I’m told all these gun defenders would like to prevent.

If I were to describe tyranny, I might say “a condition where the dominant political, legal, and economic powers collectively treat a group of people as if they were not people.”

If I wanted to describe fear, I might say “a condition or state of believing that there exists a credible danger of damage or harm.”

Now, speaking of tyranny … well, there is a lot of tyranny to consider.

In Florida, Republicans are allowing healthcare workers the legal right to deny care to queer people based on their moral convictions that “queer” is not a moral thing for people to be, to such a degree that for a moral person, providing a queer person with healthcare would compromise their own religious conviction in a way that letting a queer person die would not. This is a law that prioritizes the consciences of bigots over the lives of queer people, which could only be possible to pass and enforce if the dominant structures of power and law believed that queer people are not people. A clearer example of tyranny would be hard to imagine, yet none of these self-proclaimed defenders against government tyranny seem to be bothered by it; in fact, most seem to be in support of it.

And we could be talking about many things.

We could be talking about new laws in several states that threaten public school librarians with prison time for making books that contain sexually explicit content, which is defined by whether or not those books acknowledge the existence of queer people—which, again, could only be possible to pass and enforce if the dominant structures of power and law believed that queer people are not people.

Or we could be talking about new laws that make it illegal to talk about our nation’s history of slavery, which have been passed by Republican governments in many states because of the interests of concerned parents, which could only be true if “concerned parents” only means the concerns of white parents who think their children will feel guilty if they learn the truth about our country’s history, rather than the concerns of Black parents who worry about their children growing up in a culture ignorant of the tradition of racial societal injustices it has inherited, in a nation that refuses even to acknowledge such injustices. And these sorts of deliberately ignorant laws could only be possible if the dominant structures of power and law believed that Black parents and their concerns do not matter in the same way as white parents and their concerns.

Or we could be talking about new abortion laws that seem almost designed to harm and kill pregnant people—they seem almost exactly like that, in fact.

And there are dozens and dozens of laws like this as well, all of which exist to prioritize the comfort of abusers above the lives of those they intend to abuse, each of which could only be possible to pass and enforce if the dominant structures of power and law believed that the people it targets are not people, each of which provides such a clear definition of tyranny it would be hard to imagine a clearer one. And, in each case, none of these gun defenders, self-proclaimed warriors against government tyranny seem to be bothered by any of this tyranny; in fact, most seem to be in support of it.

It’s almost as if, for them, the guns aren’t there in case the government becomes tyrannical, but rather if the government ever stopped being tyrannical in the way they prefer—a way that favors them. Gun defenders seem not to fear tyranny, but the end of it. The fear among gun defenders appears to be that the dominant structures of power and law would stop treating gun defenders as the only people who matter, which would mean that they would no longer be the people who get to decide who lives and who dies, because everyone else would be a person, too.

Given current trends, those holding this fear needn’t worry much.

Neil Gorsuch, a Republican justice on our flagrantly corrupt Supreme Court, called Covid-prevention measures possibly the greatest peacetime attack on civil liberties in this country’s history, which—given all the laws Republicans are passing right now, and given the fact that Covid disproportionately harmed and killed elderly people and disabled people and racial minorities, and considering that this is a country whose history includes slavery and genocide of Native nations, and Jim Crow laws, and laws that did not give women the vote or equal standing under the law—is quite a statement about who a member of the nation’s highest court considers to be a person and who he doesn’t.

And Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two people with his massacre weapon, is a conservative hero and a much sought-after speaker.

And Jordan Neely’s killer has raised over $1 million to his defense fund and has received the full-throated support of leaders of totalitarian states like Florida and Texas, who insist that Neely’s killer should not be seen as anything but a good Samaritan—a hero doing a good and necessary thing.

Texas governor Greg Abbott, by the way, has openly proclaimed his desire to pardon a convicted murderer who shot a Black Lives Matter protester, a man who was legally open-carrying an AR-15, which is one great way of demonstrating that defending the right to open-carry is not the actual issue at play2.

And so on.

So I think gun defenders need not worry. Their brand of tyranny will still hold sway, favoring their group of mostly white mostly men who insist on being seen as defenders with pure intent, no matter how dangerous and scary they become to everyone else.

So those are my thoughts on tyranny.

Now, speaking of fear … well, there’s a lot to fear.

There was the massacre in Dallas, committed by a Nazi, as is often but not always the case. The massacre happened for the same reason every massacre happens: not because the shooter was scared, but because he had a gun and believed he was a person who ought to be able to decide who lives and who dies, and we live in a country where his ease was prioritized over those who would like to not be massacred.

There have been massacres and shootings most days, many of them in Texas, where Governor Abbot repealed any need for any gun permit. This shift has not resulted in a more polite society as promised, but it certainly has resulted in a more shot one.

It’s not all massacres.

A man named Andrew Lester shot a man named Ralph Yarl for ringing his doorbell, which happened not because he was scared (though he was) but because he had a gun and believed he was a person who ought to be able to decide who ought to be shot.

And a man named Kevin Monahan shot and killed a girl named Kaylin Gillis for pulling into his driveway, which happened not because he was scared (though he was) but because he had a gun and believed he was a person who ought to be able to decide who ought to be shot.

And a man named Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. shot two cheerleaders for getting into his car by mistake. He might have been scared. I am quite certain they were. I’m also quite certain Rodriguez had a gun and decided it was time to use it.

Robert Louis Singletary shot a 6-year-old girl and her father when a basketball rolled into his yard. I don’t know if you find basketballs to be as frightening as Robert Louis Singletary does, but if you are a parent of a 6-year-old, you might wonder why his fear is prioritized over your much more real fear that your 6-year-old might get shot by somebody who has decided that they need to maintain the right to decide in every given moment who lives and who dies.

And so on.

And yes, all these people have been charged for their crimes, and all of them may pay penalties, but one thing will not be happening, and that’s the government of Texas or any government anywhere else in the United States doing anything at all about a nation full of people who believe that violence is the first and best solution to all problems, with free and easy unfettered access to as many guns as they can afford in order to enact it.

And that would be because this is a nation that has prioritized the ease of those who feel they might need to massacre people someday over the lives of those who would like to not be massacred, a nation that believes that the hypothetical fear of the shooter counts and the very real fear of those who get shot does not.

Anyway, that’s fear for you.

When there is a problem and nothing is done about it, eventually you have to assume that the people with the power to fix the problem would rather have the problem.

If you fix the problem of violence, then you have a world with less violence. I think that a world with less violence would be a good thing, but I see how it would be a big problem for people who believe that violence is the best solution to every problem.

I don’t think gun defenders fear shooters, or intruders, or looters. I think they depend on them. I think they fear a world without.

I think that for gun defenders, every shooting helps.

And so it is with crime, and all the drivers of crime—all the poverty and unrest and injustice and political upheaval and desperation that ensures that the world is a place that will never tire of justifiable potential targets.

I think a world of shootings is a world that comforts gun defenders, because it reinforces their idea of the world as a fundamentally violent place, which requires them to be violent in response as the first and best solution.

If I am somebody who depends for identity on the idea that I might someday be the gun hero who prevented a shooting, a world of plentiful shootings is not something to prevent, but to ensure. If I am oriented toward violence, a world of fear that I personally get to mediate becomes the only world I can possibly understand. A world of peace would be terrifying, and a world without gun violence would be a world in which gun defenders will never have a chance to shoot anybody, and it seems to me that this is a gun supremacist’s biggest underlying fear.

The surface fear for gun supremacists, I think, is that they might lose their supremacy in deciding who gets to live and die, and the tools that allow them to make those decisions an immediate reality.

But their deepest fear is that someday we may live in a nation like pretty much every other industrialized nation in the world, one where guns are heavily regulated and not easy to acquire, where gun violence is so rare, that defenders with guns are not required.

Why is a world of peace the deepest fear?

I’ll save that for next time.

A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. Here beside him stands a man, a soldier by the looks of him, who came through many fights but lost at love.

  1. Now if I was right about this, you might find a healthy conspiracy industry that insists that victims of particularly horrific massacres literally aren’t real at all, and that massacres only exist to try to attack the truly important thing, which are the guns.

  2. It’s very interesting how the only thing that ever makes real gun regulation possible is not hundreds of terrorist gun massacres by white supremacists and other shooters, but any threat that any marginalized group might arm themselves against actual tyranny. Google “Mulford Act,” for example.